By ELIAS MBAO Nation Correspondent, Lusaka
Controversy over the parentage of presidential candidates is dominating the debate ahead of Zambia’s September 20 elections.
This constitutional requirement seems to override other qualifications for one to occupy State House.
Somehow, the law is also a weapon to eliminate opponents from the race.
Three out of the country’s four post-independence presidents have been subject to the controversies of having at least one foreign parent.
Incumbent Rupiah Banda has been crying foul for the last three months after opposition parties picked up a former diplomat’s claim that he was ineligible to run for the Presidency on grounds that his father was a Malawian, and, to some extent, his mother Zimbabwean.
“Why do they want to knock me out on technicalities?” complained 74-year-old Banda, insisting that both his parents were Zambian by birth.
This was after the main opposition Patriotic Front (PF) party of Michael Sata — his family friend but main challenger in the upcoming elections — dragged President Banda’s foreign parentage allegations to the Lusaka High Court.
While filing in his nomination papers for the Presidency, populist Sata — apparently to irritate President Banda — declared: “I am very much a Zambian citizen and both my parents were Zambians.”
Article 34(3) (b) of the Constitution requires that both parents of presidential candidates must be Zambian by birth or descent.
The legislation, widely labelled as “a bad law”, was enacted by then president Frederick Chiluba to bar his predecessor — Zambia’s founding father Kenneth Kaunda — in the 1996 elections.
Ran against frogs
Ran against frogs
Kaunda, now 87, ruled Zambia for 27 years from independence in 1964 until 1991, when Chiluba beat him in the first competitive elections in Zambia.
In previous polls considered ‘democratic’ during his one-party rule, Kaunda contested against frogs — a symbolic opponent.
At the end of Chiluba’s first five-year term, the President’s political influence was dwindling.
Many Zambians were dissatisfied with his governance, unfulfilled promises and rampant corruption.
Consequently, a Kaunda comeback was likely in the upcoming 1996 polls.
Kaunda, still a popular figure in Zambia’s politics, had made inroads canvassing for votes to return to the Presidency.
Chiluba, fearing a possible defeat, hastily changed the law to prohibit citizens — primarily targeting Mr Kaunda — whose parents were not Zambian by birth or descent from standing for the Presidency.
Kaunda, born in 1924 in northern Zambia of well-known Malawian missionary-teacher parents, was instantaneously barred from standing for elections, notwithstanding the fact that he had previously ruled the country for close to three decades.
An angry Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP) boycotted the 1996 General Election.
Kaunda’s son and retired military colonel, Panji — then a UNIP legislator — warned President Chiluba and his governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) about the “bad law”.
“I was in Parliament when the law was amended. In my submission, I told the House that this law will one day be used on the MMD as they would have a candidate whose parents were not born in Zambia,” said Col Kaunda in a recent interview.
He added: “It is a bad law that should have been repealed long ago. We never chose where our parents are born. If I am born in Zambia, that should be sufficient to qualify me to be President.”
With Kaunda out of his way, Chiluba easily won the elections into his second and final five-year term.
However, shortly afterwards, the same law haunted Chiluba, at least for a while, but he sailed through.
In an electoral petition, Chiluba’s opponents submitted that he was ineligible to have stood for the Presidency and demanded that his victory be nullified because he was allegedly born in Zaire (present day Democratic Republic of Congo) of a Congolese father.
According to Supreme Court documents, the five petitioners “pleaded that his (Chiluba’s) identity and that of his parents had never been ascertained (and) contended that he was the illegitimate son of one of the witnesses born from an illicit affair with the mother while she was married to a Mozambican. He was born in the then Belgium Congo (Zaire) in 1944 when his father, the witness, was an alien.”
However, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition on grounds that when Zambian citizenship was created at independence on October 24, 1964, the Independence Order had conferred citizenships on every British protected person who had been born in the former protectorate of Northern Rhodesia or, if born outside the protectorate, whose father became, or would but for his prior death, have become a citizen by birth in the protectorate.
“The parentage qualification for election as President introduced into the Constitution of Zambia poses a number of difficulties apparently without solution, (like) whether the reference is to legitimate or biological parentage and whether adoptive parentage is included,” the Supreme Court judgment read in part.
Battling for citizenship
As Chiluba was fighting his father’s alleged foreign origin, Kaunda was also battling for his citizenship.
The Ndola High Court declared Kaunda stateless and Chiluba attempted to deport him, but the Supreme Court — on appeal — restored his citizenship.
Lithuania-born Simon Zukas, a renowned politician, resigned from the Chiluba Cabinet in protest against the parentage qualification.
“It is a bad law and that is why I opposed it. I said at the time that it will cause us trouble in the future,” said Zukas this week, adding that “this bad law was pushed through by MMD and it is still there today, so we have to live by it until it is repealed, which I hope will be soon.”
Chiluba is dead but the same law is haunting his political ally — President Banda — for whom he determinedly campaigned to be re-elected.
‘Banda is Malawian’
Zambia’s ex-envoy to Malawi, Milton Phiri, currently in ‘hiding’, lit the fire when he alleged that President Banda was Malawian.
President Banda angrily dismissed the allegations.
“Both my parents were born in Chipata in Zambia,” said President Banda.
Sata’s party accused Banda of having falsified his declaration in 2008, when he stood for the Presidency, that his father was Zambian when in fact he was Malawian and, therefore, ineligible to stand in next month’s polls.
The judge dismissed the lawsuit on a technicality that, among other reasons, President Banda as the subject of the matter must have been enjoined in the suit.
However, according to the Zambian Constitution, even if the PF had sued President Banda in person, he could not appear in Court because he enjoys presidential immunity. Again, the case would have fallen off.
President Banda was born in neighbouring Zimbabwe where his bricklayer father had gone for greener pastures.